The tragedy in Glasgow this week has reminded me of the one night I spent in Glasgow on June 3, 1990.
Glasgow was European City of Culture and, in order to celebrate the city’s musical and artistic diversity, a major one-day festival – The Big Day – was planned for June 3 over several sites. The event appealed to your young, wide-eyed and naïve narrator because Deacon Blue was to headline the event on Glasgow Green. Because the event was free and this was perhaps my only chance to see the band in their (adopted) home city, I made the trek up to Glasgow from where I was studying in Leeds.
I’d long had an affinity with Scotland and Glasgow, but for the life of me I can’t explain why. Deacon Blue had clearly had an influence, their debut album Raintown being metaphorically soaked in the city, but I also have pre-teen memories of wanting to be Scottish (I think Kenny Dalglish was a big influence). By 1990, I’d never been to Glasgow (save for one or two brief changes of train on the way to Edinburgh) and I’ve only been back once since, and then only for an afternoon. June 3, 1990 merely served to fan the flames of my romantic and slightly absurd Glaswegian notions.
I travelled to Glasgow alone that day. I got off the train at Queen Street station and walked the length of the platform before stepping out into George Square. It was midday and already crowded with people; music poured from a stage in the middle of the square; the high, historic buildings around the square gave off a grand, civic swell. It was intoxicating; the city buzzed as it rocked.
My desire was to get to Glasgow Green early, ensuring a good spot for the evening concert at which Deacon Blue would play. I almost immediately headed towards the Clyde and along the river to the site. En route I passed another stage and paused to watch Eddi Reader do her thing, but as time was of the essence, I soon moved on to the Green. I got there early enough to be one of a handful of people waiting for the barriers to be dropped. When they were, I ran with all my might towards the stage, my feet pounding the hard, hot ground; I almost tumbled halfway across as my excitement and anticipation outpaced the muscles in my legs. When I got there, right at the front, I realised I had three hours until the concert started and probably nine until it concluded – my first concern was going to the toilet. I now wondered if the muscles in my bladder could fair better than those in my thighs.
The gig itself was awesome. It was a broad showcase of contemporary Scottish music – The Silencers, Hue and Cry, Wet Wet Wet, Big Country and, of course, Deacon Blue. The crowd was estimated at 250,000; it was all shown on Channel 4. I was right at the front, desperate for the loo. Scottish media still – occasionally and wistfully – reminisce about that day; the day Glasgow united despite the political context, the mistrust of the Government, the decline of manufacture, the loss of jobs, the Poll Tax, the Tories. A celebration, marinated in Tennents.
Of course, the day wasn’t ‘free’. The walk back to Queen Street station was late. I lost a library book. I missed the last train home and, in the morning, they forced me to buy a new train ticket because I lost my train ticket too.
In the morning. In the morning. I spent an unplanned night in Glasgow. I didn’t move from the steps of Queen Street station once I got there. The shutters were down and there was no way onto the platform. The steps were the only place to stay; to wait, until the trains started again. I didn’t sleep. I watched George Square through the night, and the people coming and going from the hotel entrance that shared those steps. I never once felt afraid, or cold, or vulnerable and despite being alone, I never felt that either. It was Glasgow, and it was drunk on pride.
My knowledge of Glasgow is weaned from the varying emotions and experiences of Ricky Ross and his expression of those things as though he’s a Scottish Bruce Springsteen – earnest, angry, tender, gritty, optimistic and heart-breaking. Perhaps that is the city, too. Those steps I spent the night on are roughly where the bin lorry hit the hotel in George Square this week. Whilst based on one night in 1990, I know those steps, that hotel, that view, and I know something of the spirit of Glasgow people. Coming at Christmas, the loss of six people is particularly hard. My thoughts are with the people of the city and those who are missing someone this Christmas.